|"When will my
child be ready to...?"
|by Jan Hunt
|In almost every counseling session I have
with a parent, one question is nearly always asked: "When will my
child be ready to sleep alone / stop nursing / be potty trained / read
a book / listen / cooperate / [fill in the blank]?"
This is the same thing as asking: "When will my child be
Each and every child has an inner timetable, invisible to the naked
eye. We can make an educated guess about a child's readiness, but why?
What is the rush? There is so much time for a child to grow! If he or
she reads at three, or at six, or even at twelve, what difference does
it really make in the long run? If your child is happy and secure, you
can be sure that you are allowing the best schedule of growth in all
areas, regardless of what other children happen to be doing at the
|It's understandable that today's parents worry about
developmental schedules - after all, virtually all parents have
attended school, where they were taught that there are deadlines every
child "has to" reach or he will never catch up. Educator
John Holt urged parents to forget about artificial timetables. He
often reminded parents that "children are not trains". If a
train is late at its first five stops, it will likely be late arriving
at its final destination. But a child can be "late" at all
the stops and then suddenly be ahead of everyone else.
|If only all parents could have a live-in
expert on their particular child, and could tell them when their child
was ready for each new stage! Fortunately, all parents do have such an
expert - their child is the one person on the planet who has this
knowledge, and will let the parents know, through tears and tantrums
if necessary, what they are ready - and not ready - to do. Yet a
child's attempt to communicate this critical information often goes
unheard, mistrusted, or even punished or ridiculed. If an adult
becomes so upset or angry that he has a tantrum, what he most wants at
that moment is to be heard with empathy. The last thing he wants is to
be ignored, reprimanded or punished. We all know this to be true -
even obvious - for ourselves. Why do we think that children are any
As Tim Urban wrote on his whimsical and illuminating Wait But
Why website: "...something funny has happened for humans in
the last 10,000 years - their civilization has dramatically changed.
Sudden, quick change is something civilization has the ability to do,
and the reason that can be awkward is that our evolutionary biology
can't move nearly as fast."1
We're still having Stone Age babies who don't know about these
changes. And because they're babies, they can't tell us in words2
how critical their needs are.
||Technology has made life better and easier in many
ways. Parenting is the exception. Babies know exactly what they need
and when they need it, but we think we know better. They try hard to
tell us they need to be held with skin-to-skin touch; we call that
overdependence, and put them in strollers. They try to tell us they
need to sleep cuddled next to us (like all other mammals); we call
that inappropriate and put them in cribs. They try to tell us they
need breastmilk, the planet's most perfect food; we call that
inconvenient and give them formula. They try to tell us they want our
reassuring presence day and night; we call that impossible, and put
them in daycare.3 They try to tell us
they need our full attention; we call that clinging and give them a
|We know they need our love and understanding, but
when they express anger or frustration, we call that misbehavior and
punish them. When will we learn that all babies do the best they can
at every moment, given their current level of information and their
limited physical abilities? If babies could talk, their most frequent
request might well be "Please listen to me - I'm overwhelmed and
need your help and understanding."
We are so fortunate that we have live-in baby experts, straight
from the Stone Age, who have a clear knowledge of what babies need,
and have always needed. No wonder they are puzzled when their needs
are not met as easily and lovingly as they were for most of human
history, and as they are still met in hunter-gatherer tribes today.
The baby is the expert - not just about human babies in general, but
about what this specific baby needs. All we need to do is listen and
trust that knowledge.
1 Urban, Tim. "Taming
the Mammoth: Why You Should Stop Caring What Other People Think"
waitbutwhy.com, July 26, 2014.
2 There is one exception: babies and toddlers can learn to
communicate via sign language as early as eight to ten months, following
two months of signing by the parent. If a toddler signs "ear
ouch", that can save significant time and frustration for both parent
and child. Life with a toddler is much easier when they can let us know
what their needs are! For more information, see "Teaching
Your Baby American Sign Language" by Jennifer Van Laanen.
3 The fact that many parents have few alternatives to
daycare for economic reasons is the most critical problem. Daycare studies
routinely find that many, if not most parents would prefer to be at home
with their children, but would struggle financially. Daycare is a very
recent development in human history; for millions of years, families lived
in tribal communities where daycare by strangers would never have been
necessary. See my article "The Daycare
Dilemma" for more on this topic.
Jan Hunt, M.Sc., offers phone counseling
worldwide, with a focus on parenting and unschooling. She is the Director
of The Natural Child Project and
author of The Natural Child: Parenting from the
Heart and A Gift for Baby.
More Articles by Jan Hunt More
Articles on Attachment Parenting
More Articles on Babies
More Articles on Living with